Friday, February 15, 2013

The Rise of Muliflora Rose

When out digging the dogs, it is not uncommon to find a sette under a thick break of multiflora rose, with perhaps a few broken strands of barbed wire snaking along the ground right next to the hole.

In that little picture is a story.

Multiflora rose originated in Japan
and was imported to Europe around 1862 to serve as a root stock for "rambling" roses.

Rambling roses became a craze with the creation of "Turners Crimson Rambler" in 1893, and this craze lasted for about 30 years until the modern, repeat blooming, large-flowered climbing roses were created.

The first multiflora roses to "go native" in the U.S. were rambling roses that originate during the rose craze of the very early 20th Century. In truth, these feral roses were not much of a problem.

The problem started in the 1930s and extended into the early 1960s as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various State highway departments promoted multiflora rose as a "cure-all" for many public and farm landscaping problems.

In truth, multiflora rose did seem to be a good solution for a lot of difficult areas. Multiflora was cheap, easy to propagate from cuttings, and was rampant with vigor. Long, arching and pliable canes with thorns were perfect for shielding car lights from oncoming traffic, discouraging humans from entering fields or crossing roadways, and keeping cattle out of riparian areas.

Rose roots seemed to thrive in a large variety of soils, tolerated both drought and wet reasonably well, and they did a commendable job of stabilizing creek banks and slowing erosion on slopes. Rose hips were also eaten by a wide variety of song birds and animals, providing a needed food source in winter.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its various state analogues vigorously promoted multiflora rose as a low-cost alternative to barbed wire. Barbed wire had made its way East several generations earlier after first being established in the West.

Unlike western wire, which was typically strung from post to post, eastern wire was often strung from existing trees around the edges of woods, creeks and fields. In time, these the trees grew and absorbed the wire into their trunk. Embedded wire was difficult to remove and made the trees worthless as timber since wire and nails wrecked commercial saw blades and had the potential of turning a chainsaw into a lethal weapon.

Like so many good ideas, the promotion of multiflora rose has unintended consequences. A mature multiflora rose bush can put out half a million seeds a year, and these seeds are easily spread by birds and can live in the soil for 10 years or more.

Farmers found that getting rid of a rose hedge required riping it out with a bulldozer and then plowing and mowing the areas multiple times a year for several years in order to destroy the existing root and seed stock in the soil.

The good news with multiflora rose is that has truly been a boon to wildlife. Rose hips are consumed by robins, grouse, cedar wax wings, pheasants, wild turkeys, fox, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, possums, coyotes, black bears, beavers, rabbits and raccoons. Thick rose breaks provide shelter for deer and bear, as well as groundhogs, possums, fox, rabbits, and raccoons. Rose hedges along stream banks have worked to keep cattle and horses out of riparian areas, resulting in less erosion, cleaner water, and excellent denning sites for raccoons.

Next time you find yourself digging a hole in the middle of a multiflora rose bush with broken barbed wire snaking along the ground, remember that these stabbing obstacles are, in a very real sense, a significant player in the vigorous return of wildlife we see in in the Eastern U.S. today. Though they may be the enemy of the moment, they are the long-term friends of terrier work.


Anonymous said...

AAAAARRRGGGGHHHH! You did another post on multiflora rose!!!!! And you still LIKE it! :-0

I don't know a grower in PA that doesn't hate, hate, HATE multiflora rose. The stuff is nasty invasive, has the root system from hell (which means you have to dig it out -- and the root ball is probably four times the size of the plant above ground) and shows up all over the place.

In the case of PA, the Game Commission planted it all over the place as fodder for deer. Unfortunately, the deer hate it as much as we do, so they don't eat it -- which means that it grows like the weed it is and WE (the growers) have to grub it out.

My Audubon Society gardeners (who are nuts about doing all they can for birds at the community garden) don't seem to share Patrick's enthusiam with multi-flora rose as a bird food source -- they are all for grubbing it out on sight (which unfortunately, is never as early in the plant's life cycle as one would like -- it is one tricky little plant when young -- it seems we never find it until that root system is really well-established and it's shovel time. :-P) because they feel there are other plants (both native and non-native) that are better bird food sources.

We have 40 antique and species roses at the community garden, so it's not that we don't love roses. If you want a native rose that looks great and thrives in any soil, I'd recommend the Swamp Rose, Rosa palustris

Yeah, I know it's Patrick's blog, but he's totally wrong when it comes to multi-flora rose -- it's EVIL EVIL EVIL with no redeaming value and should be grubbed out on sight!


PBurns said...

Well yes, farmers DO hate multi-flora -- which is why it is so good for wildlife. Nothing is deader on a farm than a corn or soy field. Nothing.

The alternative to mutliflora rose is not a field of Buddleia and Cone Flowers, interspersed with millet and winterberry; it's an unbroken field of corn and soy with perhaps a thin edge of trees with scraggly pokeweed underneath.

As a former employee of the National Audubon Society, I can assue you that multiflora rose has been a huge boon to birds, fox, raccon, deer, quail, pheasant, and song birds BECAUSE it is an invasive species. Just because a species is foreign does not mean it is bad.

In a world in which farmers have massive bush hogs, combines, bulldozers and chainsaws, the tendency on U.S. farms is to scrape the land clean from fence post to fencepost, and from roadway to riparian area. The one thing that slows down this push for "economic efficiency" is the tenacity and fecundity of multi-flora which tends to "recolonize" any place it can. God bless it, for without it, most farms would be wildlife deserts.

Of course, farms are not gardens. In a garden, people may want to get rid of multiflora and put in something better, but that's not too hard with Roundup. Mechanical elimination of multiflora is not the way to go unless you have a skidder or a bulldozer.


Angela CW said...

I read you blog post with interest. I am researching multiflora roses. Can you please advise if this rose I have in my garden resembles Multiflora? Is it highly invasive and should I remove it from my garden?

Thanks in advance.

PBurns said...

Yep, that's multiflora; it's very commonly used as the rootstock for grafted roses. When you plant a grafted rose, you have to plant the rose so that the graft is above the ground or else you get multiflora. It could be in this case, however, that the graft did not take or died and the multiflora sprang up. Either way, it'sa not the double rose you bought and paid for.


PipedreamFarm said...

I'll take multiflora rose over barberry. At least our sheep will eat the rose leaves; they won't touch the leaves on barberry.

Jenn said...

This is the kind of commentary that I come here for. A little natural history, a little human hubris, a little humor.

Keep on keeping on!

Moochies Mother said...

I want to find something to plant between my barbed wire fences to keep away enemies, both domestic and foreign. If the cattle can eat it and I don't have to water it, maybe its a good choice along the roadway where trespassers climb between the fences.Where can I get some?